Primary Practice Contact: Derek Williams
REPRESENTING ADOPTING PARENTS, BIRTH PARENTS AND AGENCIES IN SIMPLE AND COMPLEX ADOPTIONS
If you are considering adoption in the state of Utah, particularly a private or interstate adoption, one of the most important first steps of the process is consulting with an experienced Utah adoption law attorney. There is a specific process, involving legal requirements, that must be followed in order to formalize and legalize any adoption. We have extensive experience and are passionate about helping couples and birth parents navigate the complex adoption process. Our adoption attorneys will guide you through every step, helping you understand your rights and responsibilities.
Although adoption is an incredibly rewarding experience, it can also be confusing, frustrating, and emotional. Our focus is to minimize your stress, making sure all legal issues are covered to keep the adoption moving along as smoothly as possible so you can direct your attention to preparing your “forever home.”
Utah, like all states, requires adopting parents to adhere to respective state rules and guidelines. Through the Utah Adoption Act, adoptions are closely regulated to include who can adopt, who can be adopted, and the legal requirements involving both situations and more. These rules and laws are in place to ensure the best interests of the child remain the primary focus. Whether you are in a traditional marriage, same sex spouses, a step-parent, or a single parent who wants to adopt, we can help with the often-complicated adoption process. We provide services in a wide range of situations including:
- Private and agency adoptions involving infant or older children
- Out of state adoption
- Foster care adoptions
- Step-parent adoptions
- Grandparent and other relative adoptions
- Single parent adoptions
- Same-sex couple adoptions
- Contested adoptions
Except for foster care adoptions, most adoptions in the state of Utah go through district court. Consents must be obtained from the applicable birth parents, home studies and background checks need to be completed, and other issues addressed between the parties. All necessary documents must be filed with the Court after filing a Petition for Adoption. Usually, six months after a family takes custody of the child, a finalization hearing is scheduled with the judge. During that hearing, the new parents and judge will sign documents and a Decree of Adoption will be issued. Finally, your lawyer will then help you begin the process for obtaining a new birth certificate and social security card for your child.
For additional information, the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (AAAA) is an organization we are actively involved and for which our lead adoption partner is an honorable member. Below are additional resource links on items and topics you may want or need to explore in your specific situation. We also invite you to contact Derek S. Williams directly with any questions at all:
- The Process
- Private Adoption v. Agency Adoption
- Facilitators v. Adoption Agency
- Open v. Closed Adoption
- Birth Parents Rights
- Birth Father Rights
- Relative and Step Parent Adoption
- Adoption Tax Credit
- Adoption Expenses
- Interstate Compact on Placement of Children (ICPC)
- Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)
FAQs BY ADOPTING PARENT(S):
1. We were just selected by an expectant mother to adopt her baby, what now?
There are many details involved in a private adoption. An attorney licensed in the adopting parent(s) state of origin will discuss all of these with you during the adoption process.
Many steps are involved in the process. Your first one is to find and speak with an experienced and qualified adoption attorney. Managing a private adoption is very different than finalizing an agency adoption. Private adoptions require the skills and experience of an attorney who understands the entire adoption process. In addition to ensuring you abide by the specific laws that govern adoptions, a qualified attorney will ensure each party to the adoption is supported, and informed throughout the course of the adoption.
Your attorney’s role is to prepare everyone involved and confirm all necessary steps and actions are taken to formally legalize the adoption. From the hospital delivery and placement, signing of paperwork by the expectant parents, filing of court documents, related expenses, if any, and finalization of the adoption.
Usually, in addition to hiring an attorney, an adoption home study and certain background checks are required. Your attorney should advise you on if and when these are necessary and then help you find an experienced adoption social worker if needed.
2. If we are working with an adoption agency, why do we also need to hire an adoption lawyer?
In order to finalize and legalize your adoption it must be approved by a judge. If approved, the judge will sign a Decree of Adoption. This Decree formally terminates the parental rights of the biological parents, indicates that the adoptive parents have all of the rights, responsibilities, and obligations owed to the child, and orders that a new birth certificate be prepared.
Normally, the judge will hold a hearing after the child has been in the custody of the adoptive parent(s) for at least six months. At this “finalization” hearing, a representative from the adoption agency will testify about the agency’s recommendation and consent to the adoption. During an agency finalization hearing, legal custody of the child is formally transferred from the agency to the adopting couple.
An experienced adoption attorney should be able to handle an uncontested and straightforward agency finalization for a relatively modest flat fee.
3. In private adoptions, what expenses are we allowed to pay for the expectant parents?
Utah law permits an adoptive couple to pay certain expenses that are: (1) reasonably related to the adoption of a child; and (2) are incurred for a reasonable amount; and (3) are not made for the purpose of inducing the mother, parent, or guardian to consent to an adoption, or cooperate in the completing of an adoption. (Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-203.) “Adoption Related Expenses” may include expenses of the mother or father of the child being adopted, including:
- Legal expenses
- Maternity expenses
- Medical expenses
- Hospital expenses
- Counseling expenses
- Temporary living expenses during pregnancy or confinement of the mother; or
- Expenses for travel between mother’s or father’s home and location where the child will be born or placed for adoption
Adoptive parent(s) should consult with their attorney or agency before making any payment to or on behalf of a birth parent. As part of the court finalization process, the adoptive parent(s) will be required to sign an affidavit that outlines all adoption related expenses to determine that they were all legally appropriate.
4. Is there an adoption tax credit available to help cover the costs of adoption?
For specific questions regarding adoption tax credits, you should consult with a tax professional about your individual circumstances. There is a federal adoption tax credit which may be available to you.
5. What should I look for when interviewing attorneys to hire?
Look for experience! Working with an attorney whose practice focuses primarily on adoption law will save you time, money and stress.
A few questions to consider asking might include:
- How many adoptions have you handled that are similar to ours?
- Can you manage a direct/private placement adoption?
- Do you have experience with interstate adoptions, adoptions involving Native American children, step-parent or grandparent adoptions, and contested adoptions?
Although it might not be needed in your situation, hiring an attorney who has experience in contested adoptions is strongly recommended. This experience allows your attorney to better identify and manage any potential risks involving your adoption placement and finalization.
Finally, while the cost for legal services is important, finding the least expensive attorney should not be a factor. Finding an attorney who is experienced, efficient, and knowledgeable about the best ways to address your specific situation is invaluable.
Additional information on why you need an adoption attorney, how to select a qualified attorney, and in finding an adoption attorney in another state, the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (AAAA) is an excellent resource.
6. What is an “open” vs “closed” adoption?
“Closed” Adoption. Typically relates to the adoptive parents and biological parents having no contact, and may not even know the identity of each other. In the past 15 years, “closed” adoptions have become less common.
“Open” Adoption. Generally involve situations wherein some information is shared between the biological and adoptive parents, and there may be ongoing contact between them after the adoption. The level of “openness” can vary greatly depending on the preferences of the parties involved. One adoption may have only occasional communications, while another may have frequent in-person visits. With private adoptions, the adoption attorney along with each parties’ adoption social workers/counselors, should encourage discussions early on to make sure both sides are comfortable with the level of openness after placement. It is very important that each person involved in the adoption consult with an adoption specialist to discuss their preferences and reach an understanding and agreement that will be healthy for everyone involved in the years following the adoption placement.
It is also important to know that in Utah, Post-Adoption Contact Agreements (written contracts regarding contact or visitation after placement) are not legal and enforceable in court, except for adoptions involving children adopted out of the custody of the State of Utah (foster care adoptions). (Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-146.)
7. How are interstate adoptions different?
Adoptions where either the expectant or adoptive parent(s) reside in another state are more complicated and require a unique skill set by the attorney involved. Each state has signed onto a compact called the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC). This law requires that before a child is taken across state lines for the purpose of adoption, the ICPC administrator for each of the two states much review information about the adoption and sign off on the transfer of the child.
With most ICPC adoptions, the adopting parent(s) travel from their home state to the state where the expectant mother delivers the baby. Following placement, the adoption attorney organizes the packet of information and documents required under the law and submits the packet to the administrator of the sending state (usually the state where the child is born). After approval, the sending state administrator forwards the packet and its approval to the receiving state (usually the state where the adoptive couple lives) who then reviews and approves of the placement. The adoptive couple must stay in the sending state with the child until approval is received from both states. The amount of time it takes to obtain ICPC approval varies depending on the states involved. The adoptive couple should consult with their adoption attorney in planning how long they may need to stay after placement in the sending state.
ICPC may not apply to certain adoptions involving placement with close family members. You should consult with your adoption attorney with any questions as to whether ICPC will be required with your interstate adoption.
8. Do I always need an adoption home study and background checks in order to adopt a child?
Generally, an adoption home study is required to adopt a child. Additionally, criminal background checks, as well as a records check of the state’s child abuse database is required.
Adoptions in Utah do not require an adoption home study unless the judge orders otherwise; and if the adoptive parent is related to the child or the biological parent as a: stepparent, sibling by half or whole, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or first cousin.
If an adoption home study is not required, the normal background checks on both adoptive parents will still be required.
In Utah, an adoption home study is generally valid for 12 months prior to placement of the child. If multiple children are placed in the home during the 12 months, an update to the home study may be required between the placements. Background checks are generally valid for 18 months prior to the adoption placement. (Utah Code Ann. §78B-6-128.)
Contact us to help with your adoption process.
Our adoption law attorneys are ready to help. For more information about the services SCM provides in this area, contact Derek J. Williams. Derek is a Fellow of the renowned Academy of Adoption & Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (AAAA) and a former President of the Utah Adoption Council. He began helping families with adoptions after he and his wife proudly adopted their two children in 2003 and 2007.